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Family Visits vs Family Vacations

As a kid, some of my favorite family trips were when we got to go see family in Washington, Wisconsin and Texas. Growing up, our nuclear family was rather alone. Sure, we had really good friends who became almost like family, but that just isn’t the same as actually having family around. Though Gigi had been born and raised in California, her parents and sister Fabby all moved out of state, and Pappy had left Texas behind first for the Navy and then after graduating from University of Texas at Austin, to find work in California.

From left to right: Funcle, Fabby, GGP, GGM, Gigi, Pappy and in front is Jackalope and Fat Mama (Aug. 1992)

Growing up, it was just us. No aunts and uncles around. No cousins to play with. No grandparents to watch us after school. But on the upside, by the time I was in 6th grade, I had traveled more than any other kid I knew. For us, family trips were a mix of traveling to visit out of state and out of area relatives (for a time, Fabby and Funcle lived in the Bay Area of California while we lived in Southern California, camping trips with family-like friends, and family vacations where we met extended family for a fun destination adventure. But ultimately, every trip, every vacation, every bit of travel we did as kids was focused on spending time with our extended family.

Because we did not grow up with our extended family as part of our daily, weekly, or even monthly routines, it was important to Gigi and Pappy that we have a connection to our relatives. This is why nearly all their vacation time and a goodly amount of their travel budget (which for most of my childhood was nil) was devoted to family travel and vacations. Which, as a kid, was amazing!

Hanging with cousins in Texas; Jackalope is in the middle and Fat Mama is hugging her cousin in blue (Dec. 1991)

I loved flying out to Texas every few years to see my cousins, many of whom were around my age. Every summer, I looked forward to spending a week in Washington at my grandparents' house where we would pick raspberries, build driftwood forts, and go fishing. Even our rare trips out to Wisconsin to see Fabby and Funcle made a big enough impression that Uncle Andy, Jackalope, and Aunty Coco eventually moved there, just outside of Madison.

Additionally, we would periodically take vacations to fun domestic locations with our extended family. Once, Pappy took us all plus Nana Fay to Maui. Another time, Fabby arranged a family vacation to Orcas Island on the Washington coast to celebrate my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary. There have been multiple cousin vacations to Yosemite and one BIG road trip through multiple National Parks that ended in an awesome family vacation in Yellowstone. That one was so fun that Fat Papa and I are about to repeat the trip with Itsy Bitsy and meet all the same participants (Gigi, Pappy, Fabby, Funcle, Jackalope) plus a few extras (Uncle Andy, Aunty Coco, E-Man).

Now that I am a parent, I understand more why it was so important to Gigi and Pappy to prioritize family trips and family vacations rather than traveling with just our nuclear family. However, I still get in arguments with Gigi and Pappy over the way Fat Papa and I choose to use our precious vacation time. Arguments is too strong a word … let’s say … disagreements.

Fat Papa and I really like to travel. But, before we had Itsy Bitsy we didn’t really have the time or money to do so. It has really only been in the last few years that Fat Papa has been in a job that provides him the perfect trifecta of salary, time-off, and good management that has allowed him to feel like he (by extension, we) really can travel. Which of course begs the question … where do we go?

Gigi, and to a much lesser extent Pappy, is always on me to spend our vacation time and vacation budget visiting family. She always wants to know when we plan to fly out to Wisconsin next. When are we planning to get her grandkids together. “You know your schedule is more flexible than theirs, so when are you going out?” And it isn’t that I don’t want to go see my brother, sister-in-law and nephew (plus other family), but we’ve been there, done that. I want to go to new places, I want to see new destinations, I want to experience new things.

So, I like to break family trips into two categories: family travel (when you travel to where your family lives) and family vacations (when you travel to a neutral destination with your extended family). Can you guess which one I prefer? I’ll give you one guess as to which my family seems to prefer.

Now, I will fully admit, there are things that Wisconsin does WAY better than California … cheese aside, we are not getting into a dairy fight … fireworks and Fourth of July is one of our favorite things about Wisconsin. For this reason, Fat Papa and I have made an effort to take a family trip to Wisconsin every year (or at least every other year) to celebrate Fourth of July with our family, to have fun BBQing, and blowing stuff up.

Since fireworks are banned where we live, Fat Papa goes a little crazy in Wisconsin, 'tis the Fillhardt way (July 2021)

But the problem with visiting any place over and over again is that eventually there isn’t really anything new or interesting to do, especially if you are going at the same time of year, every year. Or at least that is how it feels. And this is where my problem with family travel comes into play.

Since we have a limited amount of vacation days every year and a limited travel budget, I want to make sure we are making the most of our family travel. I love seeing my family, but I really don’t like visiting my family. I would much prefer to go on vacation with my family. But that is its own can of worms. Getting everyone to agree on a budget, destination, accommodations, activities, and food is ducking challenging to say the least.

Orcas Island with cousins, Fabby, Funcle, Gigi, Pappy; Fat Mama and Jackalope are in top left kayak (Aug. 2007)

Then of, course, there is the other … other … problem of travel. Fat Papa, Itsy Bitsy, and I travel WAY MORE than the rest of our family AND have a TON of out of state friends and family who want us to come visit. We have family in Wisconsin, Texas, New Mexico, New York, and Southern California (which is practically another state) in addition to close family friends in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Washington, DC. We love going to visit all of the people we know who live far away from us, and certainly do not see most of them as often as we would like.

Balancing Fat Papa’s PTO with visiting friends and family vs vacations to unique destinations has been really difficult. When we choose to visit friends, we offend family. When we choose to travel as a nuclear family to a destination, a friend is sad we didn’t see them. When we travel with one side of the family, the other is disappointed that we didn’t vacation with them, too. I feel like we are always being pulled in different travel directions. And not always toward a destination that we really wanted to visit.

We keep asking family to join us in Hawaii but so far only grandparents have come with us (Apri